It’s been a while since I went on a Slackerology rant, but car-free living has been on my mind again recently and instead of just speaking in confident, but speculative terms, I decided to crunch a bunch of numbers to support my argument.
When you ask someone why they don’t consider a car-free lifestyle, the primary reply is that the convenience and time-saving of traveling by car, versus public transport, is simply too valuable to give up. Well, to those people clinging to that belief, I’m about to blow your tutti-frutti little minds.
Let’s assume, as someone dependent on public transport, you ride the bus/train an average of four times a day, namely to and from work and then round-trip on one other outing (or two round-trip outings on Saturdays/Sundays). Let’s say that each time you take public transport, you spend an average of five minutes waiting at the stop. (Yes, I know that at 11pm on a Sunday you may occasionally wait 25 minutes, but all those times you wait zero to three minutes at 5pm on a Wednesday will even things out).
4 trips a day X five minutes of waiting X 365 days = 121.66 hours per year that you ‘waste’ standing around, waiting for public transport.
Now, as for the extra time spent in transit on buses/trains versus your car, depending on the route, time of day, traffic and whatever walking you need to do to-from the stop/station, yes the journey on public transport will probably take more time than if you just hopped into your car. But exactly how much more time?
The walking time to/from public transport versus your car is basically a wash, because you would likely also have a long walk from the office/shop/movie theater/etc to wherever your car is parked, not to mention all the time you burn driving around trying to find a parking spot.
While some bus routes are sadistically slower than driving a car, others, privy to priority lanes for example, are just the same or faster. And, it’s safe to assume, trains will always be faster as they happily zoom under, over or through inching traffic. Being that this interval is kind of impossible to quantify, I’m just going to pull what I feel is a fairly generous number out of the air and say a (average!) journey on public transport will take seven minutes longer than if you were in a car.
4 trips a day X seven additional in-transit minutes X 365 days = 170.33 additional hours per year that you might spend in transit while on public transport than if you were in a car.
Combining the waiting-for-public-transport hours and additional in-transit hours, you could potentially lose 292 hours of your life per year if you relied solely on public transport.
There’s no denying that’s a lot of toe-tapping, non-thrilling time. That said, you car drivers will want to put down any delicate or spillable items you may be holding before I continue.
Now, let’s look at how many hours per year you work in order to raise the money necessary to keep your car on the road. First, let’s break down an annual car expense sheet (I’m doing both low and high end expense breakdowns, since everyone has different circumstances and expenses depending on city, daily driving distances, age, lifestyle, etc):
• Car loan payments = $3,000 to $5,400 per year (or $250 to $450 per month X 12 months)
• Gas = $780-1,560 ($15-30 per week X 52 weeks per year)
• Insurance = $1,200 to $2,400 per year
• License tabs = $50-120 per year
• Maintenance = $300-500 per year (an estimated lump sum for oil changes, car washes, windshield wipers, one or two minor part(s) failures, etc)
• Parking = $200-2,400 per year (the startling high end is for people who pay to park in garages/lots both at home and at work, plus supplementary night/weekend parking at meters, lots, etc)
Low and high end totals come to $5,530 and $12,380 per year. Since only a tiny fraction of car drivers live at either of those extremes, I’m going to use the midpoint of $8,955 from this point forward.
In order to bring home the $8,955 per year needed to keep a car on the road, you’ll actually need to earn $11,193.75 in pre-tax income . So, at a pay rate of $16.63 per hour (average entry-level salary for someone with a four-year, liberal arts degree in 2008, totaling $34,590.40 per year, which, cruelly, is just enough to warrant the above 25% income tax rate.), it will take – brace yourself – 673.11 hours of non-stop work to earn enough money to keep your car physically and legally running.
And if you don’t have a car loan, or don’t spend that much money on parking or whatever, keep in mind that I haven’t factored in all the money you could potentially cough up paying for collision repairs, moving violations or parking tickets and, in some places, toll roads.
Of course, without a car you’ll probably need to buy a monthly unlimited ride transit pass which, depending on the city, will cost roughly $1,000 per year. Paying for this will require 75.17 hours of work (to earn the necessary $1,250 in pre-tax income), which, subtracted from the 673.11 work hours saved by dumping the car, leaves you with 597.94 hours of work (or 14.95 weeks, assuming a 40-hour work week) that no longer need to be performed.
If, like many salaried workers, you don’t have the option of wheeling and dealing with work hours, instead you’d end up with an extra $7,955 take-home cash in your wallet each year. When was the last time you landed an instantaneous net income increase of $7,955 for doing no additional work?
Harking back to the original issue of all the time “wasted” by relying on public transport, assuming there was the option of simply not working those subsequently unnecessary 597.94 car-funding hours, factoring in the 292 whiling-away-on-public-transport hours calculated above, at the end of the year you’d have 305.94 surplus waking hours of free time. More accurately, you’re wasting 305.94 precious wine drinking/video game playing/family time/napping hours every year by hanging onto the car.
Consider for a moment the delightful lifestyle transformation that would occur if, instead of two or three weeks of vacation per year, you had 16.95 or 17.95 weeks of vacation at your disposal. (Go ahead and take those 14.95 weeks off without pay. You don’t need the money.) Or you only worked 30 hours a week. Or think about how much really good wine and the lavish, weeks-long vacation in Thailand you could fund with that spare $7,955.
Now think about your drastically reduced carbon footprint.
Now think about being set free from the interminable stress of navigating through traffic and coping with car maintenance and misfortune.
Now think about how many books you could be reading or TV shows you could be watching on your iPod or calls you could be making to your long-suffering mother while sitting on public transport.
Don’t try to tell me that you’re not tempted.